Chicago Public Radio's This American Life Friday retracted a January broadcast about working conditions at Apple outsourcers that was based on monologist Mike Daisey's account of his visit to an iPhone factory in China.
"We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China--which we broadcast in January--contained significant fabrications," said Ira Glass, host of This American Life, in a statement posted to the show's website. "We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. ... Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast."
Daisey's purported visit to a factory in China that made Apple products, eloquently recounted on This American Life and during his ongoing stage show, helped focus attention on labor conditions at China's contract manufacturing companies and contributed to changes Apple has made in how it monitors its suppliers.
Glass accepted blame for allowing the unverified material to be broadcast and devoted his most recent radio show to detailing the errors.
Incredibly, Daisey on his blog responded thus: "I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity."
Daisey expressed regret that he allowed This American Life to broadcast excerpts from his monologue but insisted that was his only regret. "What I do is not journalism," he continued, repurposing the excuse offered by noted tech bloggers for their disinterest in traditional journalistic ethics. "... I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China."
This is an appalling sentiment, one that runs contrary to the traditions in the human rights community that Daisey appears to be trying to support. Human rights activists know they have to be scrupulous in their research and accusations. They know they must dot every "i" and cross every "t" when they make public charges against a government, organization, or individual. Even the smallest misstep can undermine claims of rights violations and allow the accused to question the motives and veracity of the accuser. False accusations immunize those perpetrating crimes.
No one would take organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch seriously if they just leveled charged without evidence to call attention to rights violations. Credible advocacy groups take years to build cases, through meticulous interviews and fact checking.
There's no shortage of crimes about which we can rail, but fabricating claims to bring attention to an issue only sustains reprehensible behavior by insulating abuses in doubt.
Daisey may stand by his intentions, but his work apparently cannot stand scrutiny. I can only hope that the workers in China struggling for fair labor conditions don't see their cause dismissed as a fiction.
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